Last weekend, Latasha and I took a trip down to the town of Arsuz in Hatay Province to do some exploring and to take a break from the never-ending heat here in Osmaniye. Since this post is a week overdue and I’m trying to catch up, I’ll keep it brief. Upon first arriving in the town, three things were readily apparent: Arsuz was beautiful, welcoming, and Arab. Though Hatay has been part of Turkey for a little over seventy years, it is still ethnically a heavily Arab (and particularly Alawite) province. As a result, the area felt culturally distinct from the other parts of Turkey that I’ve visited so far. Walking around town pieces of conversation in Arabic could be heard in cafes and among beach-goers, while the silence at night was broken by lively Arabic tunes blaring from a bar along the river. Many cars also bore Syrian license plates – I’m unsure whether this is a recent development or if Syrians have always frequented the region. Make no mistake – all signs were in Turkish, and the national flag and bust of Atatürk stood dutifully in the center of the town. We were clearly in Turkey, but a more multi-ethnic and culturally diverse version than we saw in Ankara.
The town is geared toward the water, bisected as it is by an emerald colored river lined on each bank with restaurants. Gazing up the river into the distance gives a view of large, rounded mountains reaching up to the clouds, while a glance in the other direction shows the open expanse of the Mediterranean. Not a bad place to spend the weekend. The Mediterranean was once described to me by a French friend as “a large bathtub”. It was, I think, a very apt description. The water was clear, warm, and perfectly flat. The sand was fine both on the beach and in the water, and the slope of the land from shore to sea was so gradual that you could wade out 60 feet and remain standing. After the hundred degree heat we’ve had here in Osmaniye on some days, it was a great break.
The food was equally refreshing. In contrast to our meat and bread based meals in Osmaniye, our dinners in Arsuz consisted of fish, salads, and mezze – tapas-esque small plates like hummus, baba ghanoush, and cheeses – accompanied by glasses of rakı, the anise-flavoured national drink of Turkey. We also had what Latasha and I both agree was the best döner of our trip. The particularly juicy meat was spiced with cumin, apparently a regional specialty, and something we otherwise haven’t encountered here. Between the beach and the food, I think I hardly have to say that this was not be the only trip I’ll take to Arsuz.
Still, there is one somber note about the whole experience. Laying on the beach, it was immensely sobering to think that just fifty miles down the coast looking out over the same shimmering water were Syrians hoping for peace and security, unsure of what new difficulties their country. No matter how remote it may feel at times from my life here, a war is being waged just miles away.